Source of book image: http://www.xconomy.com/wordpress/wp-content/images/2008/01/telephone-gambit.jpg
A great and important debate is occurring about the desirability of the patent system. Should it be abolished, or reformed? If The Telephone Gambit book is right, one of the spectacular failures of the system is in the awarding of a patent to Bell for the telephone.
That’s a big “if”: some of the reviewers on Amazon give reasons for doubting Shulman’s story.
I hope to have time to look into this further.
(p. D10) It was a brilliant concept. But was it Bell’s? What had happened during his trip to Washington that allowed Bell to abandon the blind alleys he had been exploring and to suddenly, not incrementally, find the technological solution?
The answer to that question is a tale involving high-powered Washington lawyers, political influence, a patent clerk with a booze problem, and improper access to Elisha Gray’s patent filing, where Bell found the secret to making the telephone work. Mr. Shulman lays out the evidence — documentary, scientific, chronological and psychological — piece by damning piece. He shows most impressively how Bell’s subsequent behavior and actions are entirely in keeping with those of a decent and honorable man having to live most of his long life (Bell died in 1924) with the knowledge that behind his fortune and his fame lay a single instance of brazen dishonesty, of intellectual theft.
“The Telephone Gambit” is solid history, and Seth Shulman makes it as much fun to read as an Agatha Christie whodunit by using the techniques of historiography the way Hercule Poirot used his “little gray cells.” That’s no small accomplishment.
For the full review, see:
JOHN STEELE GORDON. “False Claim, Future Fortune.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., JANUARY 16, 2008): D10.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
The book being reviewed, is:
Shulman, Seth. The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell’s Secret. hardback ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008.